After working as a financial lawyer in a top law firm, Stephanie decided that she wanted to do something meaningful with her skills during her year off. “My time in India has been such an invaluable learning experience for me on so many levels, both professionally and personally – from being introduced to the human rights field, the scale and severity of the human rights atrocities occurring in India, working in an NGO, meeting so many new people, discovering that I can settle in relatively quickly and learning new skills.”
After working as a financial lawyer in a top law firm, Stephanie decided that she wanted to do something meaningful with her skills during her year off. Through Challenges she spent 6 months working with a human rights organisation in India. This is her story:
“After speaking with Challenges staff and former volunteers, I felt that Challenges was an organisation I could trust. Having been in contact with Challenges alumni network as well as attending their training course I felt ready to go on assignment.
I was really excited about developing skills I wouldn’t be able to at home. I was also looking forward to assisting my organisation providing resources that they didn’t have.
It was very sobering to see firsthand how a local NGO actually operates and the challenges they face i.e. the lack of resources and how this truly does impact on its work. Be[ing] able to advise the organisation from a commercial background and from a different perspective was hugely valuable to them… Volunteering for a long period of time, allowed me to build strong relationships with staff members and to really get familiar with the organisation, which cannot be understated.
I quickly learnt that I needed to be more patient or else I was simply going to spend a lot of wasted time frustrated! I also learnt to observe and not jump to conclusions so quickly and to see things from the staff member’s perspectives in order to see the bigger picture.
The team I worked with, although much smaller than my previous work teams was extremely collegial and very friendly. Everyone was extremely patient with me and took the time to explain things and answer my (seemingly endless) questions. I also became good friends with a couple of other volunteers which was great.
India itself was utterly fantastic – I had wanted to visit and live in India as it is an absolutely stunning country and I am definitely going to return to see more. I also found everyone I met from colleagues, friends and strangers on the street, to be extraordinarily friendly, kind and helpful.
Living with a host family was probably the most difficult aspect for me – whilst the accommodation was perfectly fine – location/amenities/food were all excellent – I found the lack of independence difficult to get used to. But on the other hand, this experience also contributed to me really appreciating how different life is in India to my ordinary life and in hindsight, I’m glad I stuck it out!
I was extremely lucky in that a former Challenges volunteer put me in touch with his two Bangalore friends before I arrived and I quickly formed close friendships which was fantastic – we did a lot of weekend trips together. In the evenings I could browse the maze of shops on the walk home and either chill out at home for the evening, or meet up with friends for dinner or coffee.
Being a human rights organisation there is a huge breadth of work that could be undertaken by future volunteers. I would only recommend that they spent as long as possible with them in order to fully understand the organisation.
My time in India has been such an invaluable learning experience for me on so many levels, both professionally and personally – from being introduced to the human rights field, the scale and severity of the human rights atrocities occurring in India, working in an NGO, meeting so many new people, discovering that I can settle in relatively quickly and learning new skills. It has also been a key opportunity for me to discover if this is a field I would like to pursue further professionally – at the moment, no, but it has certainly changed my perspective on several things.
I plan on volunteering my time and skills regularly to an organisation closer to home, ensuring that I keep aware of human rights issues around the world, supporting causes by attending protests/discussions and being more involved with my local community by supporting locally owned shops. I have also started to be much more aware of the impact that I have on the environment, in particular, my diet, and “green issues”.”